A lot of people are being accused of a lot of crimes these days.

~ Some observer, circa every year in history.

This should not be breaking news: The world is evil and evil people will do evil things. Likewise, and much more heartbreaking, is the fact that the world contains many people trying to do the right thing and still failing. That is the way of things. None of us is perfect and we all err. Sometimes we err deliberately, acting out of pettiness, jealousy, hatred, bigotry, or spite. Sometimes we err ignorantly, speaking or doing what we assumed to be right only later to realize the damage we were causing.

The way we deal with those errors has changed over the years.

It used to be that a person who was discovered to have erred deliberately in the past was exposed and scolded, brought to the court of public opinion and called to apologize. The degree of intensity was much less, however, if the one who erred did so ignorantly. In that case, people tended to approach the perpetrator with a softer hand, carefully discussing the problem to ensure the person has truly learned and grown and bettered.  Today, the approach is far different. Today, it doesn’t matter if the wrong was done deliberately or ignorantly, it doesn’t matter if it happened five days ago or fifty years ago, it doesn’t matter what the acceptable social mores were then vs. now. None of the “context” matters anymore. Today, if someone did wrong in the past—no matter how much the scale has slid over the years—the perpetrator is as guilty as someone who brazenly did the wrong today. Thus, people’s pasts are combed over, scrutinized, over-analyzed, all in the quest to root out someone else who has done something wrong, some other person we can parade around to the mob, crying “shame!” at them.

And when the perpetrator of yesterday’s sin steps forward and says “That was yesterday and I asked forgiveness for that” or “that was ten-thousand yesterdays ago, and I am not the person I was then,” their penitence is not accepted by the bloodthirsty mob. When the perpetrator cries “I’m sorry, forgive me” the words fall on deaf ears.

We can’t forgive! Forgiveness is weakness! Forgiveness means condoning the crime! Forgiveness means not punishing!

~ the mob

When did forgiveness become a dirty word? Please tell me, because I want to make sure to point my time machine to this side of it. Just the other day I was reading comments from people (not Christian) about an entertainer who admitted to wrong-doing and had been fired. The perpetrator responded by calling the one he had wronged and privately apologizing, before publicly apologizing as well.

One comment in response started like this…

I’m not saying all should be forgiven. I’m just saying let’s wait and see if he changes before we try and stop him from getting hired again.

There’s a lot to unpack in that response. I have a feeling the one who wrote it thought they were being fair and reasonable. On the contrary. First of all, it’s incredibly presumptuous for someone to appoint themselves the arbiter of whether or not a person should be hired after confessing to and being punished for a crime, but that’s a common occurrence today. A mob is roaming around out there, making themselves judges, juries, and executioners against anyone they deem unworthy. Second, look at the person’s opening statement and see how it speaks to a bigger problem in our culture…

I’m not saying all should be forgiven

This person is afraid to say they are okay with forgiving. Nevermind the fact that they—the internet commentator—wasn’t the one who was wronged in the first place. In fact, the one who was wronged DID forgive the perpetrator, so what right does this rando on the internet have NOT to forgive? But I digress. The problem here is a belief that forgiveness is a bad thing. Why would you not say “all should be forgiven?” Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone the thing they did. It just means the one who wronged you has made an effort to change and you’re prepared to let it go and move on.

Why has forgiveness become such a dirty word?

I want everyone who has ever done something horrible to be forgiven. Why? Because that “everyone” includes me. Of course, forgiveness only comes when it is asked for sincerely. If someone is sincere I hope they are forgiven.  Far from seeing forgiveness as an ugly thing, Christians are told to embrace it openly and commonly:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

As I’ve written before, a big problem with the “justice mob” today is they aren’t Christians. If they were, they’d leave justice to Jesus and the mobbing to the ones who killed Him.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight for righteous causes. I’m only saying forgiveness is not a bad word. We’ve forgotten that in our culture, just as we’ve forgotten that we are guilty of sins as well. When that happens, casual hatred and vengeance always follow.

Forgiveness is inherently unfair and unjust. It is giving mercy to someone who “deserves” punishment. That can be hard for people who aren’t Christians to appreciate. Those of us who belong to Jesus understand it though, because we see ourselves as people enjoying the benefits of something wholly unfair and unjust. We have been given mercy when we deserved punishment.

For that reason, Christians are to be kind and compassionate and, most of all, forgiving, even (if not especially) while the world around us continues to burn.